American Democracy: A View from the Mirror

Dr. William Small, Jr.

By Dr. William Small, Jr.

In the world of politics, both international and domestic, perhaps there is nothing more important for governments than the maintenance of the ability to self-define. This statement is very much connected to the strategy for constructing public arguments or debating, which says that once the major premise is accepted, the argument is pretty much settled. Both of these statements are generalizations, which mean they are “limited,” but not without merit. I also suggest that these statements help to frame a prism for the examination of American history, the objectives of the framers, as well as their commitment to the establishment of a national democratic political state based on respect for liberty and human rights. Our national understanding and valuing of these kinds of issues probably has had more to do with the socialization of our population through public education than it does with the actual historical facts as they have been sifted, packaged and disseminated for centuries.

The global world that we now share has become twenty four hours small and advances in technology have made the timeline regarding the transfer of ideas and information both common and instant. Globally, people are no longer dependent on the pony express, western union or four television channels for the delivery of critical news and information. These changes threaten the ability of governments, cartels, monopolies, oligarchs, etc., to control the narrative about what is and what should be. The ability to influence public opinion in this way is essential to maintaining the ability to self define and thus self legitimize one’s policies and objectives.

The more basic and/or the less sophisticated a strategy for perpetual self empowerment has to become, by definition, the more basic and less sophisticated are the strategies for self perpetuation likely to become. This dilemma is implicitly discussed in the work of Robert Michaels and his classic essay on The Iron Law of Oligarchy.

What America and much of the world is presently experiencing in terms of the deterioration of so called “democratic institutions” is rapidly becoming a global phenomenon. We are not witnessing the breakdown of democratic institutions and democracy. We are witnessing the breakdown of colonial and postcolonial political structures that were once able to play “three card Monte” with the very concept of democracy. These antiquated systems are now being exposed for the sham and deceit that they for centuries were able to successfully market, primarily because they were able to control the conversation, define the terms and prioritize the distribution of government goods and services. The current drift towards fascism that is taking place in so many different parts of the world is a reflection of the breakdown of the old systems and a further reflection of the panic that follows when one cannot answer the question–what is next in line for the old guard?

As difficult as it might be to believe or internalize, it was not that long ago, when even in this bastion of democracy called the United States of America, the old guard was empowered to decide which segments of the human population were in fact humans. This current debate around the political issues associated with abortion rights, reflects the unsettled and unresolved debate about who is a human being and who has the right to make that decision for whom.

Political values are by definition developed in a political context and not in a vacuum. The context for that value development, in the era being discussed was the context of white supremacy, and European world domination. These values were imported into the Western Hemisphere with the arrival of the Pinta, the Niña and the Santa Maria and soon thereafter they were affirmed and reinforced by Bishop Bartolome de las Casas who sanctioned the enslavement of Africans rather than the continued enslavement and super brutal exploitation of the indigenous population.  

I implore all who read this article to pause for a moment and reflect on the “half step” between the legitimacy assigned to “Church sanctioned recommendation” for African enslavement,” by the governments of Europe at the time, and the modern world government decision making processes which defined who is entitled to health care, education, livable wages and clean drinking water. If any segment of the population can be defined out of the circle of entitlement and denied the essentials to live in peace and dignity as a human person, then what is the substantive difference in our time and the times of Bishop Bartolome de las Casas? If we as Americans cannot point to a period in our own national history, when the rights of indigenous Americans, African Americans and people of color were not under some kind of conscious assault due to the exercise of “targeted state power” and public policy, then what in reality does the claim to American Democracy rest upon?

As we fast forward, we encounter a wide range of issues which affirm the the perception that raw power as opposed to fundamental fairness has become the new hallmark of the American system of democracy. What does the current turmoil attendant to the appointment of Justice Kavanaugh tell Americans and others about the continuing existence and impact of white supremacy and white male privilege?

How can a president, who is himself charged with credible evidence of sexual harassment, operate in conjunction with the US Senate to appoint a candidate to a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land without a full investigation of existing credible allegations sexual harassment and other critical questions regarding the character and fitness of the appointee?

What does the obvious politically partisan nature of this appointment process tell us about the importance of an independent judiciary standing as a coequal branch of government and as a guarantor and protector of democratic values?

How does a political election system, which now unapologetically makes money the “currency of the realm,” claim to assign any continuing value to the principle of one person one vote?

How can any president of the United States of America who displays a public record of “heel spurs” as a basis for avoiding military service to the country he now leads, remain popular in America as he publicly mocks and says disgraceful and disparaging things against: national war heroes, gold star families, sexual harassment victims, “physically restricted“ reporters and athletes who build public schools, support community development and protest against the killing of unarmed black citizens?

How can the president of the United States of America proudly espouse and adopt policies that separate black and brown children from their parents and place these children in facilities where their bed linen is something akin to aluminum foil and their beds are a floor? It is obviously clear and predictably valid that these living conditions are subhuman and portend future developmental problems for the children who are being subjected to them. These policies are being espoused and implemented by the President of the United States of America.

This is but a snapshot into the pattern of practices and policies symbolizing America’s decline and public abandonment of an even feigned commitment to democracy. While these abuses take place, the president is seen proudly doing an “a rhythmical sword dance” in Saudi Arabia, confessing his love and affinity for avowed enemies to America, alienating allies and being laughed at in the General Assembly of the United Nations. How can this happen in America? Let the answer be clear. It is a frightened and hate filled significant part of the American citizenry that is both actively and passively supporting this kind of bigotry and the abandonment of democratic principles.

How can this be possible in the most powerful democracy in the world? This is possible because, as painful as it is to admit, the lie has caught up with itself and in so doing it reminds us that no lie can live forever. This is possible because time, circumstance and technology pose new and insurmountable challenges to the ability of history to sustain and support the immorality and misinformation contained in a bygone era of fantasy and delusion. The new evidence that is now being shared worldwide demands a reevaluation of the lies and distorted facts that in an earlier season once falsely colored historical truth.

This shrinking world has now revealed new evidence with respect to the pace and pattern of events shaping the development and the advance of world civilization. That evidence among other things emphasizes the value of humanity’s collective contribution to world development. The new evidence produced also speaks to the human failings which now account for much of the world’s misery and unease. To many people, the sharing of this “new information” will spawn frightening, troubling and extremely unsettling times.

It has been said that hard times make for hard attitudes and unbridled fear breeds irrationality. Insecurity is easily associated with the existence of unclear thinking and desperation. Often people become confused and find difficulty sorting and identifying rationale strategies that are likely to produce understanding, solutions and/or remedies to real entrenched problems. Double standards designed to reinforce the status quo, contribute little of permanent value. Too a large degree this is where America’s politics are at this point in history. The inevitability of change is omnipresent. The uncertainty of that change is upsetting, frightening and unsettling. The frightened are seeking shelter, comfort and presumed security in places where it is not to be found.  

I do not suggest my views are the remedy for conditions described above. I will however, say with conviction that a “sick plan” to make America what it once was by attempting to resurrect the worst of a flawed past to include the time worn and antiquated notions of white supremacy and white male domination is not an option in building a viable future for a democratic US.

Leave a Comment